Sometimes byproducts can become surprisingly useful.
Believing that their chickens could be tastier, NYC’s priciest restaurants are sending their table scraps to the farmers who raise their poultry. D’Artagnan, the wholesaler that invented the concept, has divided the chickens, restaurant by restaurant, so that they can eat food only from their “final destination.” Although their diets will be supplemented by the corn and soybean they need for extra calories and protein, their flavor will reflect the restaurant that feeds them.
During the 1990s, no one cared about chicken feet. The remains of the chicken after its more desirable organs were sold, the feet were an unavoidable byproduct that few people wanted. Now they are big business.
Except for animal feed, there is little domestic demand for chicken feet. By contrast, the Chinese want them. Because we grow big chickens, their feet are fat and juicy while their “scarcity” (only 2 per chicken) makes them a Chinese delicacy.
As a result, the chicken paws (as they are called in China) that were worth virtually nothing 2 decades ago, are a multimillion dollar business. Or, as one chicken executive explained, “Thankfully, paw exports are a win/win: The Chinese get more of what they love and we get the employment and profits from a part of the chicken that otherwise wouldn’t have much value.”
Wings were another chicken problem but that too has been solved by newfound demand. According to the National Chicken Council, on Super Bowl Sunday 2013, we consumed close to 1.23 billion wing segments. Or, as the National Chicken Council also tells us, “…if 1.23 billion wing segments were laid end to end, they would stretch from Candlestick Park in San Francisco to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore… 27 times.” Also, while a majority of Americans like ranch, the preference in the Northeast is bleu cheese dressing.
And yes, chicken wings are non-partisan. According to the National Chicken Council, “…there are really no extreme left wings or extreme right wings.”
All of this leaves us with an interesting supply and demand chicken fact. Last year, higher corn prices meant feeding chickens was more expensive. Driven up by drought and the ethanol mandate from the federal government, corn prices touched all time highs. Because corn is two-thirds of most chickens’ diet, its price spike constrained chicken supply.
Sources and resources: For more detail on how high end NYC restaurants are feeding their chickens, this NY Times article is a fun read as is National Chicken Council “research” (the source of above quotes and wing info). Similarly, you can see real academic research and quirky facts converge in this Freakonomics podcast and blog post on chicken paws, productivity and profits.